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Using documents to cover religious organizations

Covering religious organizations can be difficult, because it can be tough to get public documents. Kansas City Star reporter Judy Thomas, spoke at an IRE training session for McClatchy journalists and offers the following tips:

  • Get to know your subjects inside out. Subscribe to newsletters, magazines and other publications of the organizations you cover. Get a flow chart of the organization, learn the chain of command, become familiar with the acronyms.
  • While churches typically don't have to file IRS 990 forms, it's worth checking because some do so voluntarily. ( is a good place to check). Court records can provide a good source of financial documents, so check state and federal court records, including bankruptcies.
  • Explore the organization's website. For one project Thomas conducted, she was able to search an online sermon archive that went back several years.
  • Track social media, both to look for sources and to keep current on issues.

    For more from Thomas, check out her tipsheet in the IRE Resource Center.

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